Daniel Feakes Chief, BWC Implementation Support Unit
Informal webinars keep BWC discussions going
Following consultations with BWC States Parties and a silence procedure, the Meetings of Experts (MXs) have been postponed to a date not earlier than April 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter from the Chairman of the Meeting of States Parties, Ambassador Cleopa Mailu of Kenya, related to the postponement is availablehere.
Ambassador Mailu encouraged the organization of webinars to allow for informal discussions to continue in the absence of formal meetings. The Implementation Support Unit therefore organized a series of five webinars in October and November 2020, in cooperation with the Chairs of the five Meetings of Experts. With an average of 158 participants from more than 40 countries, the webinars provided useful opportunities for informal discussions and exchanges of views.
The presentations and webinar recordings are available online:
MX1 – Cooperation and Assistance, with a Particular Focus on Strengthening Cooperation and Assistance under Article X (presentations; recording)
MX2 – Review of Developments in the Field of Science and Technology Related to the Convention (presentations; recording)
The MX2 webinar on 29 October began with a perspective from academia, provided by Dr. Clarissa Rios Rojas from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge. Afterwards, UNIDIR reviewed science and technology developments relevant to the Convention, followed by presentations from Germany and Russia of proposals to establish a scientific advisory body under the BWC. Next, theUnited Statesand Belgiumpresented proposals on biological risk governance and management. Finally, China and Japan elaborated on the development of a voluntary model code of conduct for biological scientists.
The MX4 webinar (12 November) was introduced by Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, providing a perspective from academia. This was followed by South Africa describing its 2018 working paperoutlining a set of guidelines to assist States Parties in requesting assistance under Article VII. Next, France and India presented their joint 2018proposal to establish a database for assistance in the framework of Article VII. Russia then presented its 2016 proposalto establish biomedical response units under the BWC. Finally, a representative from the Centre for Animal Health of the Food and Agriculture Organization spoke about a global multisectoral coordination approach to address preparedness and response to animal health emergencies.
The MX3 webinar (16 November) included three presentations on improving the quality and quantity of Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) from Malaysia, Russiaand Nigeria. Furthermore,Francehighlighted various ways to promote transparency and confidence-building under the BWC, such as via voluntary transparency exercises. The webinar concluded with a presentation of a proposal to strengthen BWC national implementation by the Stimson Center.
The MX5 webinar (18 November) began with a presentation by Kazakhstan on its proposal to establish a new multilateral body, the International Agency for Biological Safety. After that, Ambassador Dr. Cleopa Kilonzo Mailu, Chairperson of the Meeting of States Parties, spoke about efforts to promote the universalization of the BWC. He was followed by a presentation from UNIDIR on how to strengthen the BWC in the context of changes in technology and international conflict. Next, China introduced its national perspective on institutional strengthening of the BWC, and Ireland gave a presentation about gender perspectives. Finally, Dr. Una Becker from the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) provided an outlook on the upcoming Ninth Review Conference.
The MX1 webinar (24 November) featured presentations on proposals to strengthen the implementation of Article X by the NAM, the United Statesand China. Moreover, Finland’s Centre for Biothreat Preparedness made a case for the one-health approach to health system preparedness, and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction described the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The participation of women during the webinars fluctuated between 43% and 51%. The ISU ensured that women speakers were well represented. For the MX1 webinar, 60% of the speakers were women, and for the MX3 webinar it was 50%. Moreover, the MX5 webinar included a dedicated presentation on gender issues.
Record number of Confidence-Building Measures submitted in 2020
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the ISU received 85 CBM reports in 2020, the highest ever number of CBM submissions! The ISU would therefore like to express its gratitude to all those experts who worked to submit their national CBM reports, while often also being heavily involved in their countries' responses to the pandemic.
Videos launched to mark the BWC's 45th anniversary
26 March 2020 marked the 45th anniversary of the entry into force of the Biological Weapons Convention. To mark the occasion, a video on the BWC and its history and a video on young women scientists from the Global South were produced with financial support from the European Union. Both videos are available in all official UN languages.
The BWC team in 2020
Like the rest of the Office for Disarmament Affairs, the BWC team alternated between full and partial teleworking during most of 2020, and continues to do so in early 2021.
The majority of the BWC team were based in Switzerland, however several colleagues, particularly interns, were based in other countries (China, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia and Singapore) and adapted to the constraints of teleworking. While all the usual physical meetings, workshops and other interactions were postponed, the BWC team worked virtually and organized many online activities and initiatives, which are described in this Newsletter.
The ISU is grateful to colleagues who kept their professionalism, dedication and good spirit during the crisis, despite the challenging situation.
Activities in 2020
Webinar “The COVID-19 Pandemic: Preliminary Lessons for Assistance, Response and Preparedness under the BWC”
On 13 May, the ISU organised a workshop that brought together various BWC stakeholders from across the globe—including experts from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the Graduate Institute—to informally explore some preliminary lessons from COVID-19 for the Convention. While the world in May was (and still is) in the midst of the global response operation to the pandemic, there is much to be learned from this experience to improve future pandemic preparedness. The participating experts emphasised that no country had been adequately prepared for a pandemic of the scale of COVID-19, which highlights the need to drastically increase preparedness investments.
Online training course for BWC National Contact Points (NCPs) in South East Asia
From 22 September to 1 October, the ISU, in cooperation with the government of Japan, organised a training course for BWC NCPs in South East Asia. The two-week event provided practical training on the implementation of the BWC, skills and guidance pertaining to the roles and responsibilities of NCPs, as well as build a network of NCPs in the Southeast region. The training took place in a fully virtual format, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The infographic below illustrates the affiliation of designated NCPs around the world:
Gender perspective: The ISU strongly encouraged the nomination of women when sending out the invitation to States Parties in Southeast Asia. As a result, 77% of all participants were women (including organizers/UN staff, observers and instructors). It is worth noting that 90% of the trainees (representatives from the Southeast Asian States Parties) were women. During the course, the ISU, as one of the instructors, highlighted that women were under-represented in official BWC meetings, both in leadership roles (as Chairpersons, heads of delegations etc) and in the overall number of participants.
Launch of Nigeria’s National Preparedness Programme followed by a CBM Training
In October, Nigeria’s National Preparedness Programmed (NPP) was officially launched by UNODA, the BWC ISU, the European Union and Nigeria’s National Authority on Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions. The NPP is implemented in the framework of the European Union Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the BWC. The Programme aims at supporting Nigerian authorities in enhancing their capacity to prevent and respond to a biological weapons attack. The launching event was followed by a one-day training on the preparation and submission of Confidence Building Measures (CBM) reports under the BWC, which was attended by different Nigerian stakeholders involved in the compilation of the report. The training was also an opportunity to foster the creation of global and regional networks aiming at exchanging best practices and improving collective preventive measures as it featured two experts from Switzerland and South Africa who shared their respective national experience.
Webinar "Exploring science & technology reviews under the BWC”
On 9 December, the BWC ISU in cooperation with Germany and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) organised a virtual workshop, intending to facilitate discussions around science and technology reviews (S&T) under the BWC.
The workshop included a presentation of research findings from a survey that UNIDIR conducted among States Parties to elicit their views on S&T reviews. In addition, the workshop featured an interactive discussion of a panel of experts from other S&T review mechanisms in the international system. Further information and a recording of the webinar are available online.
Upcoming BWC activities (January to March 2021)
2nd Edition of the Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop for Young Scientists from the Global South (22 January 2021)
In the first quarter of 2021, the 2nd edition of the “Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop for Young Scientists from the Global South” will be realized by means of a series of online sessions. The online programme is also implemented under European Union Council Decision 2019/97. The first workshop took place in Vevey, Switzerland, in 2019. The 2021 workshop will bring together virtually a second cohort of talented early-career scientists from diverse countries in the Global South. All of them are engaged in topics related to the BWC. The workshop will provide them with a platform for sharing their knowledge and ideas about biosecurity issues at the local level and beyond, as well as ways for discussing ways to strengthen biosecurity. The workshop will also expose participants to the multilateral biosecurity scene, at the crossroads between science and diplomacy, and increase their knowledge of current challenges in light of scientific and technological advances. The participants will engage with experts on topics such as science diplomacy, dual-use research of concern, responsible and ethical science and innovation, global health security and other science and technology topics of relevance to the BWC. Following the success of its 1st edition, the Workshop will be a new opportunity to put empowered youth at the centre of today’s challenges in biosecurity and disarmament.
Universalization workshop for Africa 2021
A virtual universalization workshop for the eight African States not party to the BWC will be held in the first quarter of 2021. Initially planned to take place physically in Nairobi, Kenya, in late April 2020, the workshop was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The upcoming online workshop is being organized in the framework of European Union Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the BWC. Its primary objective will be to share information on the BWC, raise awareness on the benefits of joining the Convention and encourage the involvement of the States not party in relevant BWC activities and meetings. The virtual workshop will highlight the importance of the BWC in the African context. In that regard, it also aligns with African Union efforts to promote the universalization of the BWC in Africa.
As reported above, the 2020 Meetings of Experts and the Meeting of States Parties were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consultations are ongoing and the meetings are likely to be rescheduled in 2021. The nominated office-holders are as follows:
The Meeting of States Parties will be chaired by Ambassador Cleopa Mailu of Kenya. The Vice-Chairs are Ambassador Peter Beerwerth of Germany and Mr. Robertas Rosinas of Lithuania
The Meeting of Experts on Cooperation and Assistance, with a Particular Focus on Strengthening Cooperation and Assistance under Article X (MX1) will be chaired by Mr. Kimmo Laukkanen of Finland
The Meeting of Experts on Review of Developments in the Field of Science and Technology Related to the Convention (MX2) will be chaired by Mr. Kazuhiro Nakai of Japan
The Meeting of Experts on Strengthening National Implementation (MX3) will be chaired by Mr. Arman Baissuanov of Kazakhstan
The Meeting of Experts on Assistance, Response and Preparedness (MX4) will be chaired by Ambassador Elena Kuzmanovska of North Macedonia
The Meeting of Experts on Institutional Strengthening of the Convention (MX5) will be chaired by Ms. Grisselle del Carmen Rodriguez Ramirez of Panama
The ISU is pleased to introduce the new team working on the European Council Decision in support of the BWCMs. Melanie Gerber
Melanie joined the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in 2015 as an Associate Political Affairs Officer. She first worked at the Regional Disarmament Branch in New York and then at ODA’s Regional Centre for Asia and the Pacific in Thailand and Nepal. Melanie joined ODA’s Geneva Branch in September 2017. From January 2021 she is working with the BWC team on the implementation of European Union Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the Convention. Prior to joining ODA, Melanie worked at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs in the Export Control Policy Division on dual-use goods. She holds an M.A. in International Relations from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and an M.A. in Peace Research and Security Policy from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, Germany.
Mr. Rémi Bacouillard
Remi joined the BWC team of ODA’s Geneva Branch as Associate Political Affairs Officer (French JPO) in October 2020. His work currently focuses on the implementation of European Union Council Decision 2019/97 in support of the BWC, covering aspects of universalization, capacity-building for national implementation and science diplomacy. Before joining ODA, Rémi worked for INTERPOL and with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rémi holds a M.A. in European Security Policy from Sciences Po Strasbourg, France, and a M.A. in International Relations and Diplomatic Studies from the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium.
Ms. Elena Orlyk
Elena joined ODA on 1 January 2020 as an Administrative Assistant to support the implementation of European Union Council Decision 2019/97. She previously worked as an Administrative Assistant at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for over 15 years. Elena holds an MA in International Economic Relations and MA in English Language and Literature with qualifications in Philology and Teaching.
The ISU would also like to warmly thank the colleagues below, who contributed to the BWC team's activities in 2020
Ms. Johanna Brühlmann
Johanna joined the BWC ISU in March 2020 as an administrative assistant primarily supporting outreach activities. Prior to joining the ISU, she worked at the Universal Postal Union supporting capacity-building projects within the Development Cooperation Directorate. Previously, she had different experiences in the private sector and NGOs.
She is particularly interested in BWC issues as well as in development cooperation and humanitarian/social action. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from Bolivia where she lived for eight years. Bilingual in French and Spanish, she enjoys being a community interpreter in her spare time. Johanna’s position with the ISU came to an end on 31 December 2020.
Mr. Xu Han
Xu Han interned with ODA from January to August 2020 as an IT communication intern working on website and database migration, remote working systems build up, data analysis and other IT and digital-related tasks of the Office. Prior to joining ODA, Xu received a Master’s degree in Information Systems and a Master’s degree in Marketing Management from Johns Hopkins University. At the same time, Xu worked as a Data
Scientist at City78, an advanced smart city company. Xu had entrepreneurship in education industry before and worked as a business communication intern at Cardinal Health.
Ms. Karyna Kasimova
Karyna interned with ODA in Geneva from March to September 2020 as a Political Affairs Intern. Prior to joining ODA, Karyna obtained a Bachelor Degree in Politics and International Relations from Royal Holloway, University of London and a Master’s Degree in Global Governance and Ethics from University College London. Karyna is a Ukrainian citizen who is now based in London.
Mr. Ismail Belbashir
Ismail was a Political Affairs Intern with ODA from March to August 2020. He is of Moroccan origin and completed his master’s degree in International Relations Theories, specializing in non-proliferation and terrorism at the Bordeaux Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po Bordeaux), France. Before coming to Geneva, Ismail has had previous international experience interning for the UN Women country office in Rwanda, as well as with Morocco’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. Ismail is fluent in French, Arabic, English and Spanish. Ms. Janvi Ahuja
Janvi was a Political Affairs Intern with ODA from May to October 2020, working mainly on the BWC. She has a background in life sciences, with a BSc. in Biomedical Science from the University of Warwick and has completed her MPhil in Therapeutic Sciences (Pharmacology and Biotechnology) at the University of Cambridge. She started her Ph.D. in Bioengineering at Imperial College London in late 2020. Janvi is of Indian origin and grew up in Singapore before moving to the UK for her studies. Janvi has worked on several research projects, including leading the iGEM 2018 Warwick team, which was awarded a gold medal, as well as explorations in theoretical biophysics, the optimisation of laboratory (liquid handling) robotics and working on open-source hardware for those in more resource-constrained and accredited labs in the Global South.
Mr. Donald Dimailig
Donald interned with ODA from August to December 2020 as an IT intern working on website migration, web content and IT maintenance tasks. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the University of the Philippines. Prior to joining the ODA team in Geneva, he worked with the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) Secretariat as an intern and Information Systems Assistant. He specializes in software development and computer networks. Donald is passionate about internet governance and has been sponsored a couple of times to attend the annual Internet Governance Forum. He is a member of several international youth organizations focusing on internet governance like Youth4IG.
Ms. Wenjie Wang
Before joining ODA as an IT communication Intern in August 2020, Wenjie worked at UN Women’s headquarters as a Cyber Security Intern from February to August 2020. Wenjie
graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Master’s degree in Statistics and she is familiar with data analysis tools like Python and R. Wenjie is also interested in scientific research. Her research direction is how to use data analysis tools to analyze International relations among countries based on factors such as political and economic index.
Mr. Darius Meissner
Darius Meissner joined ODA in Geneva in September 2020 for six months as a Political Affairs Intern. Before that, he obtained an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford. Darius is particularly interested in nuclear and biological warfare as well as the security implications of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
Mr. Nassim Ait Idir
Nassim joined ODA as a Political Affairs Intern in September 2020. He holds a bachelor's degree in ‘Political Sciences and International Relations’ from the University of Boumerdes, Algeria. and a master’s degree in ‘Foreign policies’. Nassim is also a holder of another master’s degree in ‘Strategic and Arms Control’ from Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. He is currently a Fifth year PhD. candidate in ‘Comparative politics’. His studies mainly focused on military doctrines and strategies, conflict resolution, war studies, disarmament and non-proliferation. Nassim is also a member of the CTBTO Youth Group that works to promote the total ban of nuclear tests, for both civilian and military purposes. Nassim also writes as a part-time correspondent on defence and security issues (focus on Russia and Middle East) for the Singapore based publishing firm ‘Global Business Press’.
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Selected publications of interest
The publications below do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISU or UNODA. The ISU is not responsible for the content of third-party websites.
”Advances in Science and Technology in the Life Sciences” report by UNIDIR “This report outlines a number of trends that are facilitating advances in different areas of the life sciences [providing] many benefits to society, the global economy, and future generations. However, the same areas of research raise a number of ethical, legal, safety and security concerns, including concerns that developments therein could feed into of new forms of biological weapons with different and potentially more damaging effects to those of the past.”
“Preventing Global Catastrophic Biological Risks” report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative “In February 2020, during the Munich Security Conference, NTI convened senior leaders from around the world for a scenario-based tabletop exercise designed to identify gaps in global capabilities to prevent and respond to high-consequence biological events. This report summarizes the exercise scenario and discussion and includes recommendations from the organizers.”
The 2020 Innovations Dialogue Conference Report, a report by Alisha Anand The 2020 Innovations Dialogue examined technological advancements and trends that could radically affect the creation, production and delivery of biological weapons: gene editing techniques, DIYbio, cloud labs and nanobiotechnology. The Dialogue also explored the challenges to existing governance and arms control approaches arising from the dual-use nature of technological innovations in the life sciences and considered what new instruments, if any, are needed and how can existing ones improve and adapt to safely and securely support the peaceful exploitation of 21st century biotechnology. This report provides a summary of the key themes, issues and takeaways that emerged from the two-day discussions at the 2020 Innovations Dialogue.
Science and Technology for WMD compliance monitoring and investigations report by UNIDIR This report looks at the potential role of four novel approaches based on recent technological advances - remote sensing tools; open-source satellite data; open-source trade data; and artificial intelligence - in monitoring and investigating compliance with WMD treaties. The report consists of short essays from leading experts that introduce particular technologies, discuss their applications in WMD regimes and consider some of the wider economic and political requirements for their adoption.
A Guide to Investigating Outbreak Origins: Nature versus the Laboratory by Richard Pilch, Miles Pomper, Jill Luster and Filippa Lentzos The purpose of this Occasional Paper is to outline a readily adoptable, stepwise methodology to guide the investigation of corresponding outbreak origins, building upon traditional epidemiological principles. We have sought to remain minimally intrusive at all times; however, an increasing level of need-to-know information, site, and personnel access become necessary as attention shifts toward potential laboratory sources. Accordingly, we include recommendations to ensure such access under existing international regimes, primarily the World Health Organization (WHO)’s International Health Regulations.
A World in Disorder by Global Preparedness Monitoring Board In this report, the GPMB provides a harsh assessment of the global COVID-19 response, warning that the world cannot afford to be unprepared again when the next pandemic hits. The Board called for five urgent actions to be taken to bring order out of the catastrophe and chaos currently facing the world: responsible leadership; engaged citizenship; strong and agile systems for health security; sustained investment; and robust global governance of preparedness.
The iGEM Digest by the International Genetically Engineered Machine iGEM Digest reports the exciting news, the groundbreaking advances and the life-changing initiatives from the iGEM community to the iGEM community all over the world. Interviews, reports, articles, and analyses connecting the advances of After iGEMers from pole to pole.
How to protect the world from ultra-targeted biological weapons by Filippa Lentzos The potential reach of the state into our individual biology and genetic makeup is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have crystallized just how quickly and readily machines, algorithms, and computing power can be combined with biological data and used in technologies that subjugate bodies and control populations.